About a Boy - This charming adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel of the same name has a sincere honesty to it that is sure to captivate you. The film follows a man who is living off the riches of his father's work who strikes a unique bond with a young boy who desperately needs a nurturer in his life to guide him through his over bearing mother's suicidal depression. The film is both witty and heartfelt with emotion and does not fear straying into darker territories. Hugh Grant gives his most sincere performance, leaning into his innate charm and smarm simultaneously and young Nicholas Hoult is grand as this dweeby loner that is just trying to do good by the people around him. Rounding out the cast are Toni Collette as the mother and she is incredibly believable in her portrayal of depression, and Rachel Weisz is likable as a sort of love interest of Grant's. The film was directed by Chris and Paul Weitz, who had only previously done American Pie. This film is a considerable step up, going on to earn Oscar and BAFTA nominations for its stellar screenplay.
Adaptation - Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze reteam in this unusual pseudo-autobiographical account of an impossible adaptation. Nicolas Cage kills with a phenomenal double performance wherein he plays screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his (in real life non-existent) twin brother as Charlie works to adapt Susan Orlean's novel The Orchid Thief. The book proves impossible to adapt into a screenplay, so Kaufman decides to engage with Susan Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) to see if he can crack the book that way, but instead gets caught up in her world. This film is wonderfully weird and acts as a great companion piece to Being John Malkovich (several scenes even intertwine the movies as Kaufman is on the set of Malkovich while working on his adaptation). The film also offers a keen insight into the process of a writer and the difficulties with adapting someone else's work.
Frailty - Bill Paxton directs and stars in this haunting examination of a man who believes he was visited by angles who set him on a mission to rid the world of demons who are passing as everyday man and women. He willingly accepts the mission to hunt the demons and coerces his young boys into assisting him. His youngest follows him blindly, but his teenage son fears that his father might be sick in the head or worse, willingly choosing to murder innocent people. Paxton delivers a compelling performance and exercises great command over his direction of the film by tightening the rope that the film casts around its audience and delivers some exquisite tension fueled scenes. I like that the film walks a subjective line throughout the narrative and forces the viewers to question everything they are watching. It really is a shame that Paxton did not do more ventures into horror because he had a knack for it.
Spirited Away - Hayao Miyazaki delivered his most well-recognized masterpiece and took home Oscar gold with this haunting fantasy film that plays to a young audience but never fears to treat them with maturity. Young Chihiro gets separated from her parents and finds herself in a world of spirits that are masking the world she knows and she finds that she is losing herself to the spirit world. She is befriended by many unusual characters and the film really centers on her discovering herself and using her newfound discoveries and friendships to reconnect with her parents. There are many touches are breathtaking animation, from little, human moments like how Chihiro adjusts her shoes after putting them on, to grand swells of visual movements such as when the dragon takes flight. This is really a wonder for the realm of animation and, while not his best film, a genuine masterpiece from Miyazaki.
Y tu Mama Tambien - Alfonso Cuaron wrote (along with his brother Carlos) and directed this powerful coming of age story following the sexual exploits of two friends who go on a road trip after graduation. It is when they meet an more mature woman (played excellently by Maribel Verdu) that their journey of self discovery may be too much for either of the young men to handle. The film treats sex with a frankness that seems kind of brave in retrospect and does not shy away from addressing anything, no matter how awkward. Stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna give profoundly relatable performances and really sell the film. Cuaron has a strange ability to tap into the beauty, absurdity and unfortunate elements of life with all his works--whether it be big franchise features like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, epic action thrillers like Gravity or Children of Men or even soft character examinations, as he did with Roma. He always taps into the humanity of the subject matter and that is what really makes him one of the greatest filmmakers of the modern era.
Best Picture : Chicago - The worst picture nominated in 2002 took home the prize. That is not to say Chicago is a bad film, per se, it is just an inoffensive and easy film. What really sells the movie is the vibrancy of visuals and excellent performances from Catherine Zeta Jones and John C. Reily.
Biggest Box Office : Spider-Man - Sam Raimi directed the most screen accurate and thoughtful adaptation of a comicbook property to life at that point with his faithful and sweeping blockbuster vision of Spider-Man. He manages to cram in all the major beats of Peter Parker's life in going from picked on doofus to superhero and does so with the same energy, high and lowbrow comedy, and genuine sincerity that made the comics a mainstay. The film loosely adapts Amazing Fantasy #15, the origins of the Green Goblin and The Night Gwen Stacy Died and manages to pack in just as much heart as fisticuffs in its retelling. To it's release, I think it was the best comicbook film and cemented the comicbook film as something with actual artistic merit. Raimi was able to do this by taking the best elements from Richard Donner's inspired Superman film and bending those elements to Raimi's own unique cinematic stylings. Toby Maguire played an excellent Peter Parker and Willem DaFoe chews up every scene. This still stands as one of the strongest singular superhero outings, only to be outdone by its sequel.